UK MPs have voted to back Heathrow expansion but environmental lawyers have expressed serious doubts as to whether it is legally possible under air quality rules and say the government had misunderstood its legal obligations when recommending a third runway.
Reacting to the news, ClientEarth CEO James Thornton questioned the government’s legal rationale with regard to compliance with air quality law.
He said: “The government’s proposal says that consent for Heathrow expansion must be refused unless the airport can prove that a third runway would not affect the UK’s compliance with air quality legal obligations.
“So the government has taken arguably one of the most difficult aspects of this application and dumped it on the planning inspectorate to sort out. The Department for Transport’s own analysis says that there is a high risk expansion will delay compliance with air quality laws.
“In the meantime, the scheme will leave people exposed to more air pollution. This is in direct contravention of the government’s obligations and disregards some of the court findings in our successful legal challenges against ministers.
“At the same time, the government shows no sign of facing up to the implications of airport expansion for its climate change commitments. Either we put the brakes on aviation expansion now or we accept that, even though the UK has committed to cutting its carbon emissions, when push comes to shove we’re content to see them grow.
“We will be watching the process closely.”